I’m not going to sugarcoat it. This movie had so much potential. And it didn’t even come close.
I had my doubts from the beginning. But I chose to hope for the best because the Cinderella reboot and Maleficent were both beyond amazing. Now, bear in mind, it’s no use comparing anything to the masterpiece that was Cinderella directed by SIR KENNETH BRANAGH. But here’s what Maleficent and Cinderella did that Beauty and the Beast didn’t do: they took two already great Disney animated classics and did not merely re-tell the original story but gave us two new breathtaking adventures.
Beauty and the Beast, on the other hand, did not do enough to tell an original story. In parts it was directly pulling from the original cartoon and just embellishing. Like they literally took parts from the cartoon and said, “hm, I wonder how we could do this in live-action with crazy special effects?” It didn’t do enough to make it feel like a good enough film on its own merits. There were definitely parts/scenes/elements that showed that they were trying, but those few elements were not sufficient.
This film also has a lack of thematic cohesion. What I mean by that is, I try to get my head around how the different parts of the plot and the themes tie together, and I can’t get them to connect. There isn’t really a running theme like “True Love” or “Courage and Kindness.” We get several different themes, like Belle having to resist conforming to the village, or Beauty is found within, or the objects trying to hold on to their humanity. But, at least from this first viewing, there isn’t anything that really ties those themes together. In some scenes, I feel like there was material cut out that would have helped the story to flow better.
Disclaimer: I am extremely salty/critical about movies on the first viewing. There were things I definitely liked about this film, but at the same time things I felt were too directly tied to the original movie and things that I didn’t think were executed that well.
Some Brief Character Analysis
Gaston and LaFou: Does Gaston own the tavern? It would make sense in this version. Why do you think it’s decorated with all of his hunting trophies? Why is he so popular with the townspeople? He’s not just there for his good looks. He’s there because he runs an important local institution. He’s their entertainer.
The film does try to give him a little bit of backstory, he fought in a war, he’s a womanizer. But he’s not different from the cartoon version in any way that’s compelling.
I thought Josh Gad’s LaFou was more sympathetic than the cartoon version. He had a little more depth and he definitely had development. He tries hard to help Gaston be happy and we are understandably frustrated when Gaston ignores him.
The Beast: I actually like him better than the cartoon version. I think the filmmakers may have rushed his development too quickly, like they didn’t show how much Belle changed him or made him a better person. He’s not vain and arrogant like he was as a Prince, and he doesn’t really throw huge temper tantrums, and he's not even bitter about everything like the animated version is. He definitely has some dress sense and he’s sober and scholarly, so I can see why he's likeable. I think the backstory they did give him was a good start but not enough. They don’t do enough to connect him with the Prince he was before, which would have been a nice change. I also thought the song “Evermore” was kind of emo. What the live-action version here doesn’t do as well as the cartoon is show the beast’s feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing. But it’s cool to watch how he warms up as he falls in love with Belle.
Small thing I noticed: he likes Shakespeare but not Romeo and Juliet--I think that’s a great touch. Romeo and Juliet is kind of an overrated play, but that’s another issue in itself. The writers reference Romeo and Juliet because 1) everyone knows it and 2) it’s a “love” story, so it would show just how “bitter” the Beast is about finding love, but that is the only instance of the Beast really expressing how the curse has affected his view of life. Yes, this story is set in France, but I think there’s reason to believe that A) enough educated people know how to read English or B) they have access to good French translations of Shakespeare.
I liked the scene where the objects get him ready for the dance with Belle. They put him in the same wig and makeup that he wore as a prince, and it looks hideous. But the Beast just grins at his reflection in the mirror and it’s hilarious. I think that moment kind of shows that he’s moved on from being a party boy. I mean, this was their first party since the night they were all cursed, so it’s kind of a big deal. But the Beast wants to do things differently.
Belle: Honestly, at first it’s really hard to not think of Emma Watson’s Belle as Hermione. But after a while I get used to it. We get a little bit of development for her character but not a lot, not enough for me to empathize with her. There is a better sense of how she is different from the people in the village and why they don’t like her. On the other hand, Belle kind of acts like she’s better than everybody else--she is, but she’s kind of a snob. I kind of miss the animated Belle’s playful exasperation. The fact that the Beast in this version is educated makes their romance look of inevitable--he’s the only other intellectual she can talk to.
Sometimes I liked her singing voice, and sometimes I didn’t. It was either a disaster or a revelation. There wasn’t really an in-between. It was like she was just singing to be heard but not really performing.
I’m not really a huge fan of the dress. It is beautiful, but I was expecting something more 18th-century to fit with the rest of the film. But maybe the dress we get is supposed to be simpler on purpose. We know that Beast is trying to get away from that style himself. And we know from a scene that I actually wanted to see more of that Madame Garderobe put it together with magic. It just doesn't really fit with what they're creating.
With Belle’s other outfits, I didn’t really like how they were mostly the same. And I don’t really like
the patterned bodice and layered skirt style--it is a little too detailed with everything else going on in this film. I get the feeling she sews the pieces herself.
One thing that I think this live-action remake actually did better than the original was the library scene. It was more realistic in size and also in how the Beast doesn’t show it to her to give her a “present” but as something to demonstrate their common interest in learning. And I think it drove home a part of Belle’s character. In the village, she was borrowing books from the village priest, and he had only like half a shelf of books that she would just borrow to reread over and over again. When Beast shows Belle his library, she starts CRYING because she now has access to all the books she could possibly want.
The Objects: Ewan McGregor’s performance as Lumiere was the single best thing about this movie. He is awesome. He takes initiative. He is upbeat and outgoing. He is the new “you can do it!” meme. I’d really love to see him do the “JUST DO IT” speech. That would be so motivating. And he’s so sweet with Plumette.
Cogsworth is actually a lot less salty than his cartoon counterpart. And he and Lumiere are a lot less savage to each other. That’s kind of a nice difference.
I feel like Mrs. Potts was trying too hard to be a British nanny: her accent was overdone. But I actually liked Chip better than I thought I would. I liked how his dad was still in the village the entire time and he just had amnesia like everyone else. And while we’re on the subject, I think the amnesia was a great touch to the curse.
And also, “I AM NOT HIS GRANDMOTHER!”
Audra McDonald has an amazing singing voice and she was woefully underused both as a character and a singer.
|More of this, please!|
Overall, I think it was a good thing that they filmmakers decided to focus more on the objects and tell their stories. The filmmakers did well to show their relationships with Belle and the Beast. But I did not like the scene where the petal fell and they all complained about being less human. That time could have been better spent showing something meaningful about them rather than merely entertaining the audience. It was saddening to watch them all “die” at the end but was that really necessary? Because it didn’t really fit the rest of the story.
And yet, the opening narration makes the point that the Prince loved to fill his castle with beautiful objects and beautiful people. The curse turned the people who cared about him into objects that gradually became soulless. Material possessions are soulless. There’s kind of a poetic justice to that. But this arc was neither fully carried out nor tied in with the other themes in the story (well, except maybe Beauty is found within, but that feels like a stretch). And I loved seeing them all become human again. I like that that was elaborated. And then seeing their Master again when he’s human. That was a great scene.
Other: Maurice is probably the most different from his animated version. I don’t like how they changed his reaction to the enchanted objects. What I do like, though, is that he grew a freaking spine. He stood up to Gaston, and his conflict with Gaston drove the plot forward and it was amazing. I love his relationship with Belle and that we finally got a backstory for Belle’s mom.
The character that I definitely feel was underdone was the Enchantress. The opening scene, I think that part should have been dramatized instead of re-told. That was lame. But I like how (spoiler alert) she’s the village beggar that nobody likes, and a spinster, and Gaston warns Belle that that’s how she’ll turn out. And she totally stirs the pot by rescuing Maurice.
What was she thinking by cursing the Prince in the first place? Did she have some kind of foresight to know that she was setting events in motion to purge the village of idiocy? And why did she just stand there in the background when the Beast changed back? They could have done so much more with her character arc. Disney really wasted a big opportunity.
Music and Miscellany
I sort of like the new songs “How Does a Moment Last Forever” and “Days in the Sun.” “Be Our Guest” was a well-done sequence. But there was a part where the CGI fireworks fade away and it’s just Belle eating some chicken with Lumiere and Cogsworth for company. I never realized this before but “Be Our Guest” isn’t just a big musical number, it’s Belle eating dinner and the objects getting to know her. And while “Be Our Guest” was performed wonderfully in the film, it would have been more original to see Belle just eating a normal dinner and talking to the objects.It’s not the same, I know, but there are ways to make it interesting and fun without doing the exact same thing as the cartoon. Ewan McGregor still does a great job singing it. Maybe put it in the credits or something?
Honestly the songs don’t fit in very well with the film overall. They’re still great performances, but they took away opportunities for Disney to tell a more meaningful story. The soundtrack is fun, I'll admit to listening to it. But on a certain level I can't help being offended that Disney tried to re-create something that was ALREADY so amazing and the rest of the movie didn't meet my expectations.
Well, maybe I can help it, actually.
But talk to me about the ending scene, however: I love the dancing, I love the music, I LOVE BELLE’S WEDDING DRESS, I love how it contrasts with the ball we saw at the opening, I love everything about it...except the Prince trying to tease Belle with a creepy beast growl.
The verdict: Beauty and the Beast is still Beauty and the Beast. If we were looking for Disney to do something new and spectacular, then this was a disappointment--which is a shame, because Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney movie period. I still walked away liking this film because it's more Beauty and the Beast--more of the same.
Radical idea: maybe Disney should consider NOT remaking its animated classics. I know people only buy what they know, but is a little more originality too much to ask for?